Status quo bias is evident when people prefer things to stay the same by doing nothing (see also inertia) or by sticking with a decision made previously (Samuelson, & Zeckhauser, 1988). This may happen even when only small transition costs are involved and the importance of the decision is great. Field data from university health plan enrolments, for example, show a large disparity in health plan choices between new and existing enrollees that could not be explained by unchanging preferences. One particular plan with significantly more favorable premiums and deductibles had a growing market share among new employees but a significantly lower share among older enrollees. Samuelson and Zeckhauser note that status quo bias is consistent with loss aversion, and that it could be psychologically explained by previously made commitments and sunk cost thinking, cognitive dissonance, a need to feel in control and regret avoidance. The latter is based on Kahneman and Tversky’s observation that people feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from new actions taken than for bad consequences that are the consequence of inaction (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982).


Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1982). The psychology of preference. Scientific American, 246, 160-173.

Samuelson, W., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 1, 7-59.


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